There are a lot of books that everyone loves and can’t stop talking about, but when you finally read them, they just aren’t your cup of tea. And then there’s the opposite, those hidden gems that not a lot of people are reading or talking about, and you don’t understand why!
I’m including a list of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction that I really enjoyed, but have 10,000 ratings or less on Goodreads. That’s an arbitrary number but I feel like those are the books that many of you might not have heard of or might just need an extra push to go read.
- Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins: I just finished this book last week, so look out for a full review soon! This book features a Norse-inspired fantasy world and five complicated sisters on a quest to save their dying father. I’ve seen it shelved as YA but it really isn’t. I loved how flawed and different all the sisters were, and how much they view each other with envy and disdain, but also love and compassion when it really matters…most of the time.
- Jade City by Fonda Lee: I read this book during peak quarantine anxiety, so it was really hard for me to focus on the first half of it. Once I got back into the reading groove though, I could not put this down! This book features centers around a gang war in an Asian-inspired world, sibling rivalry, political intrigue, jade that gives people super powers, revenge, and even a sprinkling of romance. It’s incredible!
- Rosewater by Tade Thomspon: This sci-fi novel is set in a futuristic Nigeria. An alien biodome suddenly appears and causes quite an uproar, and people react with everything from panic to reverence and everything in between. This story is the flavor of hard sci-fi and strangeness that I’ve come to associate with Jeff Vandermeer. Although it’s very heavy on the science, this book is surprisingly character-driven, which is ultimately why I enjoyed it so much.
- The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron: The first book in the Eli Monpress series, this book is light-hearted and a lot of fun. The entire series just brings a smile to my face with its endearing characters and witty dialogue. The series does eventually grapple with some pretty dark themes, but maintains that light-hearted feeling throughout.
- Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone: Technically this has more than 10k ratings, but I still don’t think enough people are talking about this series so here it is! This is one of the most…scientific…fantasy books I’ve read. I don’t know how else to describe it, the world building is truly unique and manages to integrate magic powers and gods seamlessly into the modern urban world without quite being urban fantasy either. It blends so many of my favorite genres — sci-fi, fantasy, and mysteries — but not at the expense of lovable, flawed, complex characters.
- The Book of M by Peng Shepherd: This is another book that has closer to 12k ratings, but I really loved this book and can’t recommend it enough. It is such a thoughtful, poignant, and beautiful take on the post-apocalyptic story, full of folklore and myth on shadows and memories. It is also such a loving ode to human ingenuity and love.
This is one of the best examples I’ve read of someone outside my culture respectfully borrowing and reworking parts of Hindu mythology into something new. Usually it feels like “Let me, the pedantic white person who has done their research, explain this exotic story to you” and it makes me want to roll my eyes, or the story is portrayed just a little bit off from what the story is actually about (the latter sometimes happens even when the author is a PoC). In this case, it was clear that the author had a lot of love and respect to go with her research (if not actual people in her life who might have told her this story) and that went a long way.
- Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen: This is a western that mixes in magical elements. Nettie is such a spunky and loudmouthed protagonist, and one of the best parts of this book is Nettie’s exploration of identity. Part of Nettie’s character growth is her realizing she is nonbinary, but the author uses “she” pronouns in this book as she figures out her identity. It was really awesome to see a young person of color discover their newfound powers and inner strength alongside the typical fast-paced fun that is typical of westerns.
- The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley: If you are squeamish this book isn’t for you, it’s pretty bloody and the premise is that even the spaceships in this world are made of organic matter and subject to infection and rot. This book has a truly strange and slightly disturbing world, but it’s a very gripping story. The main character, Zan, starts out having lost her memories, and soon has to decide who to trust in her quest to reclaim her identity and save those she cares about. This book is full of plot twists and manipulative characters, it’s not quite “fun” but certainly entertaining.